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tv   PBS News Hour  PBS  March 29, 2011 6:00pm-7:00pm PDT

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captioning sponsored by macneil/lehrer productions >> woodruff: an onslaught from moammar qaddafi's forces sent rebels in libya into retreat today, halting their westward advance. good evening. i'm judy woodruff. >> ifill: and i'm gwen ifill. on the newshour tonight, we have the latest on the attacks and counter attacks on libya's coast, and on diplomatic moves to coordinate international action. >> woodruff: plus, we talk to two senators, rhode island democrat jack reed and georgia republican johnny isakson, about u.s. involvement in the north african country. >> ifill: then, marcia coyle walks us through today's supreme court arguments in a huge class action suit against wal-mart. >> woodruff: we update the nuclear crisis in japan, as the prime minister says his country is on "maximum alert."
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>> ifill: miles o'brien reports from the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster, the chernobyl power plant, where, decades later, radiation levels are still higher than normal. >> 25 years after the accident here, scientists are still trying to piece together its full impact. in the wake of events in japan there's new focus on their work. >> woodruff: and ray suarez interviews housing analyst robert shiller about new evidence of falling home prices in cities across the nation. that's all ahead on tonight's newshour. major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: >> oil companies have changed my country. >> oil companies can make a difference. >> we have the chance to build the economy. >> create jobs, keep people healthy and improve schools. >> .and our communities. >> in angola chevron helps train
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thank you. >> ifill: the rebel drive across northern libya turned into a panicked pullback today. moammar qaddafi's forces laid down a barrage of heavy weapons fire on the approaches to sirte, qaddafi's home town. the outgunned rebels were forced to flee the way they'd come. we have a report from lindsey hilsum of independent television news at the front lines. >> reporter: the rebels were gathering when the bad news started to come back down the road. just after dawn, those approaching sirte had been attacked by armed civilians loyal to colonel qaddafi. >> they started to shoot at us from houses and trees. it was an ambush. they were qaddafi's and mercenaries from africa. they had tanks and rockets with heavy guns.
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>> reporter: suddenly artillery shells came overhead. the rebels and we were in range of colonel qaddafi's armor. there's just been incoming fire and all these fighters are now streaming down the road, retreating, going back to the town which they hold. people i've been speaking to say that colonel qaddafi has armed civilians up there so there's been hand-to-hand combat but we can also hear heavy weapons. it was a chaotic scene as everyone piled into their vehicles, hurdling down the road for three miles to the small town they had taken easily two days ago. here they thought they could relax. there's still a sense of unreality amongst these yutful would-be fighters. >> i'll attack whenever they
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say they need me. >> with your bare hands. >> with my bare hands, yes. >> reporter: they started to fire katusha rockets towards qaddafi's lines. they don't have artillery. this is the best they can do. and it's not enough. certainly we and they were fleeing again. without coalition air strikes, the fighters are simply outgunned. >> woodruff: away from the fighting, in washington, there was divided reaction in congress to president obama's libya speech last night. this while international leaders convened in london, looking for a way to end moammar qaddafi's days in power. >> woodruff: more than 40 top diplomats turned out for the london conference, the u.s., the u.n., nato, the arab league and others had one goal: help move libya toward a post qaddafi government
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without taking direct action to remove him. secretary of state hillary clinton. >> we cannot and must not attempt to impose our will on the people of libya, but we can and must stand with them as they determine their own destiny. and we have to speak with one voice in support of a transition that leads to that time. we agree with the arab league that qaddafi has lost the legitimacy to lead. >> woodruff: the italian foreign minister offered a proposal that included a cease-fire and exile for qaddafi. but british foreign secretary william hague said the meeting was not meant to choose colonel qaddafi's retirement home. in the end, the diplomats agreed to establish a steering group on libya and to consider further sanctions. they did not discuss arming the libyan opposition forces. representatives of the rebels attending the conference left open the question of arms from the outside. but they said they do not want
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foreign troops. >> we are not seeking any outside power to bring about regime change in libya. we are not asking for any non-libyan to come and change the qaddafi regime. that is the job and the responsibility of the libyan people and the libyan people alone. >> woodruff: at the u.n., u.s. ambassador susan rice allowed for the possibility of giving guns to qaddafi's opponents as one of several strategies. >> squeezing qaddafi's resources and cutting off his money, his mercenaries, his arms, providing assistance to the rebels and the opposition, engaging in a political process as secretary clinton is doing today in london to chart with our arab and european partners a post qaddafi libya.... >> so that could include some military support? >> we have not made that decision, george, but we've not certainly ruled that out. >> woodruff: last night in his address to the nation, president obama reaffirmed the current mission does not include u.s. military action
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to get rid of qaddafi. >> of course, there is no question know libya and the world would be better off with qaddafi out of power. i, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal. and will actively pursue it through non-military means. but broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake. >> woodruff: but this morning at a senate hearing, republican john mccain said military action to remove qaddafi should be considered. >> now that we have prevented the worst outcome, we have an opportunity to achieve the broader u.s. goal in libya as the president stated, forcing qaddafi to leave power. i disagree with the president saying that the use of force should be ruled out. >> woodruff: even so, the democratic chairman of the armed services committee, carl levin, supported the president's position. >> those who favor including in the military mission the
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toppling of qaddafi need to address the problems created by getting deeper into the land of an arab country, putting ourselves in the middle of a civil war, almost certainly destroying the coalition and ignoring the u.n. mandate. >> woodruff: pentagon officials said today the 11 days of u.s. air strikes on libya have cost $550 million so far. nato is expected to take control of the operation tomorrow. for more on libya and the president's speech, we get the views of two senators. rhode island democrat jack reed is on the armed services committee. and georgia republican johnny isakson is on the foreign relations committee. i spoke to them a short time ago. senators, thank you very much for joining us. senator reed and senator isakson. before i ask you about what president obama said last night, senator isakson, just quickly, do you believe the u.s. should be involved militarily in libya in the first place? >> i think we've done the
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right thing but in the wrong way. i think the president should have first come to congress as did bill clinton when we went into kosovo and george bush when we went into iraq and afghanistan. but i do think it's important when democracy is emerging around the world, the united states to be a supporter of those who want freedom and peace. >> woodruff: what about you, senator reed? should the u.s. be there at all? >> i think the president has very adroitly assembled a diplomatic initiative that complemented a very limited military initiative. we set the basically we set the parameters for turning it over to our allies. they're in charge now. the military role has been important and i think it's been complemented by very adroit diplomacy. >> woodruff: senator isakson, let's turn to the president's speech. did he answer the question that you have in his remarks last night? >> well, he left silent addressing how he came really to the conclusion and the fact that he didn't involve the congress. i think he did explain his thought process as the leader pretty well, but i thought it
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was short on facts on how we got to where we were and why we waited so long to get there. >> woodruff: those are questions that you think should be answered at this point? >> well, it's too late to reto that. that is past. what is important are the next few days ahead. i think we need to continue our support for the uprising that's taking place and support liberty and democracy for the libyan people. i don't think we ought to take anything off the table. we can deal with circumstances as they come about. that's the best way to go about it an operation like this. >> woodruff: senator reed, the president did take further military action to remove colonel qaddafi off the table. is that something you agree with? >> while the president, under this international coalition and working through nato, still has a tremendous military leverage in terms of air power which is not just a no fly zone but also a no drive zone. as qaddafi begins to renew attacks against his people, there will be very, very
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severe air strikes against his forces. the noose is beginning to tighten around him in terms of military power through the air, diplomatic isolation, economic isolation. all these forces are coming together. ultimately i think it will be a political solution that causes him to leave the country. and at that point then i think through the you nighted nations in a position to help stabilize the country and also to develop it as... along the wishes of the libyan people, more democratic. >> woodruff: senator isakson, do you agree with that formula that it's likely to be a political and an economic set of circumstances that would cause qaddafi to leave? >> well, i think we all hope that would be what happens, but by taking things off the table that might be alternatives you don't have as much encouragement that that would be what happens. i agree with ambassador rice. i think she expressed it just perfectly in the tape we saw just a little bit before. >> woodruff: well, what about
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senator isakson, staying with you. the president spoke last night about the circumstances under which the u.s. should get involved unilaterally and then as part of a coalition. you said if u.s. core interests are at stake, it would be a cause for unilateral action. but he said if it's a humanitarian set of circumstances, if it's genocide, regional conflict, he said we should be part of a coalition. what do you make of that? do you agree with that? >> well, you know, president bush put together coalitions in both iraq and afghanistan. unity among democratic countries around the world is very important in efforts like this. >> woodruff: so you're saying that's an idea that you accept. >> coalitions make sense. leadership of coalitions make sense. we provide a lot of leadership. this is more of a committee operation than a leadership operation but i still agree that coalitions are important. >> woodruff: senator reed, what's your take on that,
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whether it's an obama doctrine or something else? >> coalitions i think provide not only the forces but also the political legitimacy to deal with some of these issues. i think it's particularly notable in this circumstance that this coalition has components from the arab world. the arab league was one of the first to take a strong stand against qaddafi. then the united nations. i think this coalition has durability and strength and legitimacy. it also will marshal nor combat power and allow us to minimize our combat commitment and essentially also reduce the cost to us. those are important factors also. >> woodruff: senator reed, are you comfortable at this point with what is happening there, that the leadership of this military effort is being handed off and can you help us better understand what is the ongoing role of the u.s. in that coalition? >> well, the nato is now in
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charge of the operation. there's a canadian general also who is the commander. we still provide very critical and in some cases unique capabilities. reconnaisance. some search-and-rescue. some activities that are not available to our nato forces, our other allies. but essentially now this is a combined nato mission. a lot of the missions are being flown by the british and the french. we have contributions from the qatarees who are not part of nato but are contributing. this is a truly international coalition. that in itself sends a very strong message to qaddafi. it's not him against the united states but him against the world. those are not good chances for him. >> woodruff: what about you, senator isakson, i think a moment ago you used the word committee. how comfortable are you with this international group that's now engaged in libya? >> well, as i said, coalitions
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are important but this coalition wouldn't exist in terms of its capables militarily if it wasn't for the united states. as jack has said, we bring very unique talents and equipment and no know-how to enforce a no-supply zone as well as some of the intelligence we're gathering to do the best work we can there. without the united states' leadership, no matter whether you have a committee or not, what's happening right now wouldn't be happening. >> woodruff: does it matter to you the make-up of that coalition, that it involves some arab states, the number of countries involved and so forth? >> i think the arab league's profound statement of about eight days ago was critically important. in that part of the world. i think that gave us a good foundation to do what we've done so far. i hope we just finish the job. >> woodruff: senator isakson, looking ahead, what if colonel qaddafi doesn't leave? what if his forces continue to push and the air and even ground support isn't enough to dislodge him along with the other political diplomatic
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moves? >> well, if that happens i think that would be very unfortunate. what's happening in the middle east is historic, somewhat compared to the berlin wall's falling with tunisia and egypt becoming more of a democracy through peaceful revolution by their people. this is not as peaceful but it's a critical time. if for some reason qaddafi and those who would be radical dictators prevail then the opportunity for a more democratic and more peaceful middle east may be lost. we learned in the 1970s when the shaw fell in iran that by not engaging we can have the worst of things happen in terms of leadership vacuums. what happened in iran as the ayatollahs came in. we need to stay the course and make sure the end result which is for qaddafi to leave is the end result. >> woodruff: i hear you saying that if that involves deeper military action by the u.s., you would go along with that? >> colonel qaddafi is probably watching this broadcast in his tent in libya right now. we have a very small world. as friedman said the earth is
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flat. if he doesn't think his leaving is a goal of ours, he's going to feel more emboldened. i don't think you take anything off the table. >> woodruff: senator reed, what about this scenario if colonel qaddafi doesn't go? >> well, if he doesn't go i think his position deteriorates continuously given all the pressure against him militarily and diplomatic so his scope of control diminishes. i think he also invites internal opposition that is probably just below the surface. you know, my sense is his days are numbered. i think the most efficacious way to get him to leave is through some type of political and diplomatic solution quickly. ultimately i think he's fighting not just the people of libya. he's fighting history. i think he'll lose. i think at a point where he departs or he's so diminished if there is a need for additional forces, that's where our european allies have the capabilities. our nato allies. and the incentives to go in
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and provide additional power. as the president made clear, i don't think this is the proper role or the necessary role for american ground forces certainly. >> woodruff: senator reed, senator isakson, gentlemen, thank you both. >> thank you. >> thank you, judy. >> ifill: still to come on the newshour, a class action lawsuit against the nation's largest retailer; japan on maximum alert; chernobyl's nuclear accident, 25 years later; and another drop in home prices. but first, with the other news of the day, here's hari sreenivasan. >> sreenivasan: syrian president bashar assad accepted the resignation of his entire cabinet today. it was a gesture to calm pro- democracy protests that began more than a week ago. up to 60 people have been killed since then, as police fired on crowds. earlier today, pro-government demonstrators massed in the central square in damascus under a 45-foot poster of assad. they waved flags and carried pictures of the president. assad has ruled for 11 years. he holds the majority of power in the authoritarian regime.
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in iraq, gunmen killed as many as 56 people in a siege in saddam hussein's hometown. at least eight attackers seized the provincial headquarters in tikrit. they took hostages before iraqi troops surrounded the site. footage showed smoke rising from the building as the battle raged. officials said the gunmen executed the hostages, then blew themselves up. in addition to the dead, nearly 100 people were wounded. the war of words over spending heated up today in the u.s. congress. it came as talks have largely broken down on funding the government for the rest of the current fiscal year. the house majority leader, eric cantor, suggested republicans might refuse to pass another short-term funding bill if there's no agreement on spending cuts. he blamed top senate democrats. >> i think that we have now seen as the american people have that harry reid and chuck schumer decided they won't be for cutting spending. if that's the case, there's only one other alternative. they've got to lay out a plan as to how they're going to
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sustain these types of deficits and the debt. either cut spending or you raise taxes. >> sreenivasan: on the senate side, majority leader reid charged the republicans pulled back from a possible deal that would prevent a government shutdown. >> they seem to be afraid to anger the party that is willing to shut down the government, put the economy on the risk of killing at least 700,000 jobs. republicans need to decide which is worse. angering their tea party base or shutting down the government. threatening our fragile economy even more. >> sreenivasan: the current short-term bill funding the government expires on april 8. u.s. consumer confidence fell this month after hitting a three-year high in february. the business research group "conference board" reported the drop today, and blamed rising gas and food prices. but wall street took the news in stride. the dow jones industrial average gained 81 points to close at 12,279. the nasdaq rose 26 points to close above 2756.
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those are some of the day's major stories. now, back to gwen. >> ifill: everything about today's supreme court case is big. from the scope, it's the largest gender discrimination lawsuit in history-- to the defendant, the worlds largest retailer, wal- mart, to the financial stakes, estimated to be in the billions of dollars. newshour correspondent kwame holman begins with some background. >> reporter: demonstrators thronged the plaza of the supreme court this morning to give voice to hundreds of thousandof women who have accused wal-mart of employment discrimination. but the inside the courtroom was not if wal-mart stores had mistreated their workers. it was whether to let the lawsuit go forward as a class action. or to throw it out. >> wal-mart is a male dominated company. that's just a fact. >> reporter: the massive suit started out small, almost a decade ago, with a discrimination claim brought by wal-mart greeter betty
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duke. >> i made them aware that i was interested in upper management. but those opportunities never opened up. >> reporter: dukes and five female co-workers charged the retail giant with systematically paying men more than women and promoting them faster. they are seeking back pay and punitive damages. marcia greenberger founded the national women's law center which filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of the plaintiffs. >> it all boiled down to the same thing. women were called janey qs and told that they should be paid less because women just work to work. men work because they need the paycheck for their families. these stories get repeated and repeated all over the country. >> reporter: wal-mart executives maintain the company has a long history of giving women opportunities to advance. vice president for human reelss spoke after today's opening arguments. >> we've had policies, strong
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policies against discrimination in place long before the lawsuit was filed. i remember learning about those policies when i joined the company. as i grew up with the company, then it became my responsibility to move them forward. >> reporter: about one-and-a-half million women work or have worked in wal-mart retail stores or its affiliate sam's club since december 1998. they all would be eligible to participate in the suit. attorney richard sam calls that number staggering. he's lead council for a law firm. he said justices need to look carefully at how much the plaintiffs actually have in common. >> there aren't common issues of fact and law. these are
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get a large settlement because employers cannot take these kinds of cases to trial. they're simply too expensive to bring to trial. that kind of travesty of justice is what i hope that the supreme court will bring an end to in this case. >> reporter: civil rights
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groups on the other hand say the ability to band together sometimes is the only way for victims of discrimination to get their voices heard. marcia greenberger. >> workers who have been discriminated against, women and others, haven't been able to have their day in court. and the class action is one tool that makes it somewhat more practical and feasible for them to be able to have their rights vindicated in court. >> reporter: a ruling in the case is expected by june. >> ifill: for more on the case, we are joined as always by marcia coyle of the "national law journal." she was in the court today. samar a at first blush, it sounds like the hallmarks of a gender discrimination case, of a civil rights case but that's not what today's arguments are really about. >> it really isn't, gwen. it really bears repeating that this case will not decide whether wal-mart discriminated against its female work force. it will only decide whether these women can join together as a class and go forward with
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their claims that wal-mart has discriminated against them on the basis of their sex. >> ifill: which could also be a big deal. explain to us what a class action suit is, what it's not, according to the arguments we heard today, and whether this case falls... that's what the judges are deciding, whether this case falls into that. >> exactly. most lawsuits are filed by individuals, but sometimes a group or a large number of people may be injured by the same defendant, company, person, and it's worth their while in terms of efficiency and cost to try to join together to bring a lawsuit seeking some kind of remedy for their injury. that's when they will turn to the class action device. there are specific federal rules that judges must examine to decide whether that device works for this group of people. the rules are important to ensure fairness to the people who want to be part of the
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class, that their claims are going to be adequately represented and also fairness to the defendant. and the court itself. can it handle the class depending on the size and the claims involved? >> ifill: give us an example of a big class action suit that we are familiar with that has come to the court before. >> to the supreme court? >> ifill: um-hum. >> there have been class actions involving product liability, drug companies that have injured people. there have been antitrust class action, companies claiming that another company has monopolized the market. there are a variety of class actions. in fact, class action, even though there have been abuses of class actions, class actions have also resulted in some of the best consumer protection laws that we have in this country. >> ifill: take us inside the courtroom today. what are the interest in the chambers today? one of the interesting things about this is this is a court that the one third women now for the first time ever. did that affect the rhythm of
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the arguments at all? >> actually i don't think it does or did. these three female justices are very aggressive questioners in every case. and very careful questioners. so they were very active and i think they were just as active as the other justices. >> ifill: how does it play out? what was the crux of the argument. >> the court is focused on the rules for forming class actions. wal-mart's attorney theodore boutrous was first up before the justices. he said the lower court here was wrong to approve this as a class. first of all he said betty dukes and the other five women who want to represent this class don't have claims that are typical of all the women that would be up to half a million women who might be a part of this class. he said each woman has different stories as to what happened to them. so he said that fails one of the requirements. >> ifill: this idea they were all called by demeaning names
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or that they didn't get access to promotions was not universal among every.... >> right. it wasn't enough to satisfy the requirement. he also said that they had to show that there was some sort of company-wide policy or practice that was across the board all the stores. wal-mart has over 3,000 stores. and that would show that they had a common fact that linked them that made them cohesive as a group to be class. they did not show that. justice sotomayor noted that the lower court found there was enough here. she asked him what do you need, what standard should we use to overturn what the lower court said here? mr. boutrous repeated there has to be some sort of common affect across all stores. he noted that wal-mart expert claims that there are no pay disparities in 90% of its stores. >> ifill: we just heard in kwame's piece that used that wore commonality.
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it came up again today in court. a lot of this is turning on that? >> yes, to form a class you have to show that there are common issues of fact and law. >> ifill: how closely is this being watched by corporations? >> oh, it's being very closely watched by corporations and by civil rights groups and consumer groups. if you look at the briefs that have been filed in support on wal-mart's side it amounts to a who's who in corporate america. and on the other side, you have many consumer and civil rights organizations. as well as experts in the rules of civil procedure that govern class actions. betty dukes and her fellow plaintiffs in this case were represented by joseph sellers. he told the justices today that, look, obviously he disagrees with mr. boutrous but he said wal-mart had a policy here of giving its store managers unchecked, unfettered decision-making
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discretion by which they could pay women less for the same job as men and offer fewer opportunities for promotion. he said every woman who works for wal-mart was subjected to that unfettered discretion. that's the common link. whether they were harmed or not, that's the common link. some of the justices thought there was some inconsistency in his position. justice kennedy said, well, on the one hand you've argued that wal-mart has this centralized management policy, a culture, they call it the wal-mart way. on the other hand, you're saying there's this individual discretion, decision-making discretion. they seem inconsistent. mr. sellers said that the store managers don't make these decisions in a vacuum. it's informed by wal-mart's culture. he said they have extraordinary amounts of evidence that show that there are sex stereotypes within that culture. >> ifill: we'll be waiting this summer to see how this
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all shakes out. marcia coyle, national law journal, thank you so much. >> my pleasure, gwen. >> woodruff: now, the latest on the struggle to stabilize a japanese nuclear plant hit by earthquakes and the tsunami. japan's prime minister acknowledged again today that his country faces its gravest problems in decades. tom clarke of independent television news narrates our report. >> reporter: it's still not clear what's going on within the mangled remains of fukushima. steam continues to carry some radioactivity away from the plant. a haze of fumes remains above this storage pond, obscuring as it has for days the extent of damage to hundreds of tons of highly radioactive fuel beneath. so little is certain. even japan's embattled prime minister couldn't put a positive gloss on it with his parliamentary questions since the disaster.
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>> this is a situation in which we cannot have any optimism. we continue to deal with the situation with the utmost alertness. >> reporter: there are new details about the extent of contamination at the plant particularly highly radioactive water beneath the reactors but japanese health officials are struggling to balance the very real risks of people living around the fukushima plant with the harm evacuation and relocation can so bring. >> my biggest concern is whether i'll be able to go back home or not. and if i go back home, whether i'll be able to return to my life. i'm also worried about the stresses my family is going through. >> reporter: given the levels of radiation, this kind of anxiety could be more harmful than the fallout. here, 1,000 people are thought to have died. japan is being forced by sheer numbers to break the tradition of cremation and bury its
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tsunami dead in mass graves. 18,000 may have died, yet confirmed fatalities due to radiation from fukushima are zero. even though it still dominates the headlines in japan and abroad the nuclear crisis here bears no relation to the enormity of the humanitarian one. >> ifill: it brought >> ifill: the nuclear crisis in japan immediately brought back memories of the nuclear meltdown at chernobyl, which still ranks as the world's worst nuclear accident. nearly 25 years later, newshour science correspondent miles o'brien returned last week to see what life is like there now. >> reporter: for a ghost town of epic proportions chernobyl sure is a busy place. pass the guards through the gates and into this time capsule of the life soviet, you must first find your way to the exclusion zone office. where the phone does not stop ringing these days.
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marina tells me it's mostly reporters calling wanting to visit since the meltdown at fukushima. what am i paying for here? what am i getting? paying the entrance fee i remember being ukrainians who would like to open the place to tourists, a macabre theme park to be sure. people can come to the area to see everything themselves and then make their own opinion, she told me. not on the basis of what journalists say about this place. no offense taken, i guess. but what a difference 25 years can make. >> good evening. in the news today there was an accident at a soviet nuclear plant causing some casualties. >> reporter: two days before the soviet government announced the problem, reactor number 4 at the chernobyl nuclear power plant 80 miles north of kiev blue up spewing out more than radioactive than 100 hiroshima bombs. with a cloud of fallout rapidly spreading north and west over europe, there could
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be no state secrets. the kremlin could not keep a lid on chernobyl in every respect. >> the results were alarming, significantly higher than normal levels were recorded. >> reporter: about 30 workers and firefighters died in the first week. untold numbers in the 25 years since. >> very important.... >> reporter: my guide inside the chernobyl exclusion zone was this physicist at the university of kiev. >> this is a little bit.... >> this is two, almost three times more background radiation right here. >> two more times right here. >> reporter: should we be worried about that? >> not really. >> reporter: not that big a deal. not enough to cause harm for a short period of time. >> for those who.... >> reporter: we stopped by a monument to the firefighters who fought valiantly for ten days to douse the nuclear inferno. are they heroes? >> yes, heroes.
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many of them received a dose not connected with life. they died in one month. >> reporter: really? >> yes. they were sent to moscow to special clinics for treatment. they died. >> reporter: helicopters finally smothered the fire with sand, clay, bore on, lead and lech quid nitrogen. eventually 600,000 soviet army con scripts were dispatched to chernobyl to shovel the lethal mess back into the remnants of the reactor so it could be encased in steel and concrete. >> our job was to put the radioactive material back to the reactor. >> reporter: i see. so then they could cover it over. >> that's exactly right. >> reporter: you were very close proximity to this stuff. >> could not be closer. >> reporter: they called them liquidateors. this man was one of them. a demolition expert, he spent 37 days working at the wrecked reactor. >> if you think about that,
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you get sick more than you're supposed to be. you just think, i have to do this. this is my job. i have to finish this. i have to do this. somebody must do that. >> reporter: until he collapsed and had to be medivaced to moscow. his wife gave birth to a girl in 1987. just shy of her second birthday she died suddenly of leukemia. in 1989 they had another daughter maria. she too contracted leukemia but survived. is there a lot of cancer in your family? >> never had one. >> reporter: never. >> never. >> reporter: is there any doubt in your mind that the leukemia your two daughters had had something to do with chernobyl? >> i have no doubt about that. >> reporter: there's no doubt radiation causes cancer and genetic defects. the fast-moving sub atomic particles plow into molecules with enough energy to knock lose electrons.
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the dinged molecules called ions can kill or damage cells. enough of this will kill you quickly. less damage can cause cancer or if d.n.a. is the target create genetic mutations. >> this is the kind of.... >> reporter: it was just one of 150 towns and settlements evacuated after the accident. more than 300,000 people were displaced while a few hundred stubborn holdouts remain on their land. people like maria. at 75, she says she is more worried about her cottage falling down than radiation. children are the most vulnerable to the effects of radiation. after the explosion there was a big spike in birth defects and thyroid cancer. extremely rare among children. and researchers say there is also a significant drop in the intellect in the region. at the did i lap dated regional hospital closest to
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chernobyl the medical staff is convinced there is a direct link between chronic exposure to radiation and a whole assortment of diseases and deformities. i asked this doctor if he is convinced people are more sick here because of the chernobyl accident. of course he told me. of course. of course they are more sick. but the chernobyl forum, a group of u.n. agencies focused on the accident, estimates only 4,000 people died as a result of the explosion and its after math. one of the four members, the u.n. scientific committee on the affects of atomic radiation issued a report contending there is no clearly demonstrated increase in the incidence of cancers or leukemia due to radiation in the exposed populations. neither is there any proof of any non-malignant disorders that are related to ionizing radiation. however, there were widespread psychological reactions to the accident which were due to fear of the radiation not the
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actual radiation doses. but ukrainian scientist begs to differ. she told me people here get sick more often and they become more seriously sick. they receive little doses of radiation but they do it on a day-to-day basis. and the second generation continues getting the radiation. radiation contamination is very stubborn. this person took me to a place inside the zone 30 kilometers or 18 miles around the plant that is still hefly radiated. they call it the red force because why? >> they call it the red force because this is strong radiation. the leaves on the trees became red. >> reporter: it killed the trees. the radiation killed pine trees in a 30 square kilometer, 11 square mile swath. as we hiked in, the geiger counter got very excited.
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now we're more than... we're at 400 times. are we okay? are we safe? >> safe. >> reporter: just checking. we just don't want to stay here too long. do we? >> yes. if you put it on the ground, it will get much.... >> reporter: look at that. five-and-a-half right there. that's 500 times right there. this used to be pine trees as far as you can see. >> yes. >> reporter: and the cesium came through here after the explosion. to this day, it's... are there animals that can live here? >> no, no. >> reporter: his colleague believes animals are the key to settling the debate over the long-term health effects of chernobyl. he and his team have spent more than a decade studying birds in the chernobyl region and beyond. >> it's clear that this low level contamination is probably more dangerous in the
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long run than having a single hot spot. >> reporter: in contaminated areas there are half as many species and one third number of birds you would expect. their brains are smaller. 40% of male barn swallows have abnormal sperm. one in five have strange colored plumeage that makes it hard to attract mates. there are unusual beak deformities and large tumors that scientists have never seen before. what if anything can we extrapolate between that bird population, that population of barn swallows and humans? >> i would argue that, you know, we're all animals and birds are actually more similar to us than dissimilar to us. >> reporter: his colleagues are also looking at chernobyl's grass hoppers. they frequently have asymmetrical wings and fruit flies which are easily impacted by radiation. those found around chernobyl have gray eyes instead of red and deformed wings.
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biologists study the little bugs in part because they only live about a month meaning she can track genetic changes through many generations in short order. she worries about the sporadic funding for research that could lead to some definitive answers about the chernobyl riddle. she told me, "this is the worst thing that can happen. if there are gaps in the research for two or three years, we cannot have this full picture." at the remains of reactor number 4, i saw the concrete and steel sarcophagus that was completed six months after the explosion. is it holding? is it doing its job? >> not carefully doing its job because many holes inside. in windy weather we have some dust coming outside. >> reporter: ukraine is asking the west for $800 million to pay for a new shelter over the old sarcophagus that would last 100 years.
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beneath it is all is a molten witch's brew of radioactive isotopes including plutonium with a half life of 24,000 years meaning in 24,000 years half of it will still be here and 24,000 years later half of that will still be here and so on. do you think human beings are capable of keeping this thing safe for tens of thousands of years? >> if we cover it. but this place this area will be not good for life. >> reporter: forever. >> yeah, forever. that is problem for all nuclear power plants. when we build new nuclear power plants, you create some headache for future generations. >> reporter: and something for our generation to consider as we weigh the pros and cons of nuclear power.
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>> woodruff: finally tonight, is the united states stuck in a second housing slump? ray suarez has the story. >> suarez: the economy itself is continuing to show signs of a strengthening recovery with stronger consumer spending and a pickup in hiring. but new data released today shows a weak housing market. the s&p/case-shiller home price index of 20 leading cities found that prices fell in january for the sixth month in a row. the index is down nearly a third from its peak in 2006, before the housing bubble burst. and it's just 1% above its low in 2009. some explanation of all this now from robert shiller, of the aforementioned case shiller index. he's a professor of economics at yale university. professor, after all it is your index. when you look at the 20 city moving average, what does it tell you?
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>> well, we've been through the biggest housing bubble in u.s. history. at least since 1890. i'm pretty sure of all time. we became very speculative. you know, the real roots of this financial crisis seem to me to lie in complacency and excitement that led to a bubble. and it inevitably unwound. we're in the aftermath of that now. >> suarez: for a few months there were stories from markets around the country that things were calming. stabilizing. and then the prices continued to dip. what happened? >> between the spring of 2009 and the summer of 2010, our indices actually went up about 8%. and in some cities it went up remarkably. san francisco went up 22%. what happened? i think that it was the incipient recovery which got kind of exaggerated in some people's minds. and particularly in bubble cities like san francisco
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which has a history of bubbles, people... they thought it was coming again. unfortunately it pooped out. >> suarez: is the continuing decline in prices now that we're seeing in this three-month 20-city average tied to the foreclosure, continuing foreclosure boom? and how? >> of course it's tied to it. we of course were having foreclosure problems even when even in the period i just talked about when home prices were going up. but at that time we had hope. in early 2009 the obama administration introduced the haferp program. they also introduced the home buyer tax credit. it gave people a sense that something was being done. now these programs... well, the tax credit has expired. hamp is under... hasn't been a success. it may never be a success. you know, people are kind of gotten into a funk again. they don't have the optimism that would lead them to think
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that this is it again. we're off to the races again. >> suarez: you're got persisting low interest rates and months month-on-month decreases in prices. why hasn't that brought new buyer into the markets that starts to stabilize prices? >> well, that's one of the mysteries. you know, it has... people really are not interested particularly in buying homes now. you know, you can see that. in n.a.h.b.'s home buyer traffic of new home buyers, housing permits and sales of new homes are at record lows. i don't know. it seems like people are in a wait-and-see attitude. you know, the unemployment rate is 8.9%, really high. we had a depression scare. now people think it's over. we've had good growth for a number of months but i think people are just not so sure. they're just not ready. it's a big decision to buy a house. they're just wait-and-see. let's not do it.
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>> suarez: those declining prys instead of bringing buyers to the market are they perhaps leaving them a little scared that if they jump in now the house they buy today could be worth even less in six months? >> i think that's right. they're a little scared. the michigan consumer sentiment survey confirms that people think there are a lot of good buys out there but they're not buying. why not? well, i think it has something. yeah, it's something to do with maybe a conservative attitude. maybe a sense that, you know, young people will think maybe this isn't the time to start... maybe people are reassessing the whole idea of investing in a home. and they look at what congress is doing. it's not so clear that the government is going to support the housing market like it used to. another thing is the mortgage interest tax deduction which obama said he wants to limit, you know, people just have a sense that maybe we had an era of rising home prices and not so sure about that now.
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>> suarez: people often talk of an intimate connection between the overall health of the economy and the health of the housing market. could this latest trend endanger what seems to be a gathering economic recovery? >> it's true that residential investment, expenditure on new homes and new apartments has often been a leading indicator. it's been related to a lot of booms and busts in the economy. but home prices don't track that as well as you might think. we had a recession in 2001. it didn't bring home prices down. that was the beginnings of the bubble. they kept going smoothly up like there was nothing happening. i don't know. i think that maybe we're exaggerating it. people tend to talk in one breath about the recovery of g.d.p. and the recovery of housing. i don't think they're at all the same thing.
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now i think some long-term trends... we had a long-term trend toward a general sense that home ownership was a good thing and we're all going to make a lot of money investing in our homes. i think that the financial crisis may have been-- and i'm not sure-- may have been a turning point in our public attitudes. we're... you know, i think we're thinking maybe renting is isn't such a bad idea. maybe i won't buy a big mcmansion or something like that. i don't know. >> suarez: professor schiller, thanks for joining us. >> ifill: again, the major developments of the day. after days of quick advances, the rebels in libya were forced to retreat under heavy fire by moammar qaddafi's forces. syrian president bashar assad accepted the resignation of his entire cabinet, in a bid to calm pro-democracy protests. and the u.s. supreme court heard arguments on allowing a huge class action lawsuit against wal-mart over charges of sex discrimination. and to hari sreenivasan for what's on the newshour online. hari?
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>> sreenivasan: there's more from miles about his visit to chernobyl. that's on the rundown. today's morning line has analysis from our political team on president obama's speech about libya. plus, we talked to correspondent lowell bergman about the money behind basketball's march madness. that's one of three stories on tonight's "frontline." also on the broadcast, more from martin smith's profile of wikileaks suspect private bradley manning, and a portrait of a chinese artist pushing the boundaries of freedom. all that and more is on our web site, judy? >> woodruff: and that's the newshour for tonight. on wednesday, we'll update the ongoing crises in japan and libya, and remember the attempted assassination of president ronald reagan, exactly 30 years ago. i'm judy woodruff. >> ifill: and i'm gwen ifill. we'll see you online, and again here tomorrow evening. thank you, and good night. major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: >> you can't manufacture pride,
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